As talks broaden about the Arab world’s stance toward tolerance and the adoption of a new vision in dealing with people of different backgrounds — characterized by open-mindedness and communication — a number of Arab countries are using this new approach in their internal and foreign policies, giving residing religious minorities full rights to express, exist and practice their religion. Tolerance has become a worthy diplomatic affair.
If tolerance is open for settlement in many states that have made significant strides in the policy of openness, coexistence and the granting of rights, some states, most notably Saudi Arabia — despite their policy of openness — have unparalleled characteristics that make the discussion about religious tolerance on their land a thorny topic that is subjected to misunderstanding and taking advantage of, in order to achieve purposes that are absolutely unrelated to tolerance, and might even turn against the original idea and create animosity instead of love and discord instead of harmony.
What do we mean by “Saudi Arabia’s unparalleled characteristics” when it comes to religions?
The land of the Two Holy Mosques is the birthplace of Islam, from where this religion spread around the world. The code of Islamic jurisprudence dedicated a number of its rules to Makkah and Madinah, and even the recipient has difficulty in speaking appropriately about the possibility of the existence of places of worship for other religions on Saudi Arabia’s land.
However, this discussion is possible due to the significant transformations in the Arab region on the level of reconsidering ideas, purifying heritage from the effects of isolation and getting rid of the idea of knowing the absolute truth, as it is no secret that the Arab mind has been dominated for several decades by the isolated view that only sees itself, and looks at the other, as misguided and perverted as long as the other disagrees with the Arab doctrine.
In Saudi Arabia, the right to freedom of expression and opinion is guaranteed to everyone.
It is certain that the winds of change have begun to blow on the land of the Two Holy Mosques, and Saudis’ perception of the other has changed. That is also affirmed by the Friday sermons’ topics in the past years, especially the sermons of the Two Holy Mosques, where recipients feel a sort of tolerance, defense of common human values, recognition of religious minorities’ rights and encouragement to contain differences, accept dissidents, and deal with them amicably, with kindness and benevolence. Those are the authentic values of Islam, the source of peace, and, therefore, this transformation in the Saudi vision of others is the foundation of a new reality that has started to form in Saudi Arabia and foreshadows a different situation.
With all these indicators, the question of coexistence and tolerance among religions in Saudi Arabia remains ambiguous and subject to uncertainty, i.e., possible of being transformed into a subject of political pressure and economic blackmail that compromises the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia by describing it as a state that has its symbolic, historical and direct status in the Middle East. That is related to some international reports issued by external actors that claim to defend human rights and try to exploit some cases, in order to impose themselves on Saudi Arabia and diminish its role in the region.
There are many examples in this context, and we conjure up the US Congress report about Jamal Khashoggi, as well as other false reports and propaganda. That is no secret to Saudi Arabia’s rulers, as they deal with it firmly and with diplomacy that relies on foresight and dialogue, without any hastiness in response or rush to drag the region into a new dispute or imaginary conflict that distracts Saudi Arabia from progress, development of society, the achievement of stability and security in the region and protection of its good relations with the nations of the world, despite all the repeated abuses.
In essence, the concept of tolerance means ameliorating, influencing and accepting. It does not indicate defeat, negativity and falling into the trap of surrender and compromise, as most people might think. Thus, tolerance is bravery, brave people are generous and generosity requires giving to the needy and non-needy.
In Saudi Arabia, the right to freedom of expression and opinion is guaranteed to everyone, and so is the right to believe in any religion, in order to respect the state’s privacy and respect the regime’s efforts in providing security and stability.
• Fares Al-Ghannami is a Saudi writer and intellectual interested in political affairs. Twitter: @farescom200
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